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Municipal Stadium, San Jose, California

Municipal Stadium, San Jose, CALIFORNIA

Number of states: still 13
States to go: 37

First game:  July 1, 2006 (San Jose Giants 5, Modesto Nuts 1)

(Click on any image to see a larger version.)

Ever see a gorgeous Jaguar going 25 in the passing lane?  How about a gorgeous house with a view and a huge garden filled with weeds?  A beautiful young man or woman with a huge, terrible tattoo?  That’s how San Jose’s

Municipal Stadium made me feel.  Ownership of something beautiful does not mean that the owner knows how to use it.  And the folks who own the Giants, Progress Sports Management (an ironic name if I’ve ever seen one), don’t know how to present their beautiful ballpark to the public.  The loud, ridiculous game I endured in 2006 was one of the biggest disappointments in my years of going to ballparks.

In its physical characteristics and attention to history, Municipal Stadium is right up there with Vancouver and Spokane–which is saying something.  I was very impressed with the loads of California League history, the murals of past greats, and the past standings and stats pasted all over the pavilion.  It was wonderful to soak all of that in.  There’s room to play catch next to the murals, areas for kids to enjoy a pre-game jump-around, a marvelous place to get ribs, and live blues music.  Gigante the mascot is to my satisfaction–I like the name.  The whole place has a positive vibe.  I was looking forward to the baseball.  But the owners of the team

apparently don’t care about baseball.

I’m not a straight traditionalist by any stretch of the imagination.  Seriously–particularly at the single-A level, I enjoy some wacky promotions between innings.  But said promotions cannot interfere with the play on the field.  These did.  There really wasn’t any reason to hold a baseball game at all…in San Jose, the baseball game has no value of its own, but only holds value as a sponsorship transference device.

I should have figured that it would be a long night when the person throwing out the first pitch–the local chief of police–arrived via a helicopter that landed on the field.  The helicopter turned out to be the most understated promotion of the night.  (Conveniently, they put live video of the helicopter’s landing on the scoreboard…just in case anyone was unable to find the huge, loud aircraft landing in center field.)  Incredibly, the Giants would make announcements and hold promotions not just

between innings–which I’m okay with–but also between batters and, incredibly, between pitches.

Let us enumerate the worst of their sins:

–I don’t mind the gorgeous scoreboard.  I also don’t mind a promotion marking strikeouts.  But rather than put K’s on the outfield wall, or even keep track of the number of K’s, they simply put a K on the scoreboard, and announced “Another K for Kelly Moore Paints!”  My wife put it well:  rather than a charming, wacky promotion, this was just a dull, corporate promotion.  I want the dull corporate stuff out of my minor league ballpark (and, for that matter, out of my major league ballparks, but that’s a harder battle to face).  There’s no charm, there’s nothing exciting…it’s just a way to make money.  And with Darren Sack’s success pitching the ball, I got so sick of the promotion that I have become an avowed Sherwin Williams man.

–The program cost $7…easily the most expensive program I’ve ever purchased.  It was jam-packed with information about the 2005 San Jose Giants.  In a minor league program, this is terribly unnecessary information.  The lion’s share

of the 2005 Giants had moved on for 2006…on to Connecticut and double-A ball.  I don’t want to know about them…I want to know about the guys on the field in front of me, and what they’d been up to in Salem-Keizer or Augusta.  Why bother with such a huge, expensive program when a smaller, cheaper one would be more effective?  Again, my business-major wife had the answer:  “More pages means more ads.”  Oh.

–I’m fine with the beer batter.  I am NOT fine with playing music between pitches and after strikes!  When the batter is in the batter’s box, don’t play snippets of “Beer Barrel Polka” with each strike.  The crowd is not stupid.  They know there’s a shot at a beer.  They’ll cheer.  Why insult them with music?  You’re not adding to the excitement.  You’re detracting from the baseball.  Remember that?  Baseball?

–The cannon.  They set it off in pre-game, which is fine, I guess.  But it went off once while the ball was in play:  during a groundout to short.  The player closest to the cannon, left fielder Michael Wagner, damn near jumped out of his stirrup socks.  Two things could have happened:  the cannon could have gone off accidentally, which is terrifying and dangerous, or it could have been intentionally set off during play, which

is awful and ridiculous…and, alas, in character for the night.

–The worst of all:  the sunflower seeds.  Some sunflower seed company would give away sunflower seeds to the crowd if the Giants scored in the fifth inning.  The Giants scored in the fifth inning.  Inexplicably, rather than waiting until between innings to deliver the goods, they sent kids out to hurl sunflower seed packets into the crowd immediately, while the next batter was at the plate.  Fans stood up and trampled each other to get to the seeds.  Meanwhile, there was baseball being played, but that was clearly of little or no interest to the Giants and their fans.

–Even the fireworks were lame.  Almost never was there more than one firecracker going off at a time.  Stupidly, they showed the fireworks live on the scoreboard.  Why?

The net result of all of this is that the hairs on the back of my neck were standing up.  I don’t know what this evening was about, but it wasn’t about baseball.  And in a ballpark that gets so much right–where baseball is celebrated on nearly every physical surface–I’m upset that the experience isn’t about baseball.  Municipal Stadium, therefore, scores very high in some areas and very low in others.  I hope to return one day when the team is under new management.  In the meantime, if anybody from the Giants is reading this, I implore you:  QUIET DOWN THE PROMOTIONS.  You’ll still get your sellouts, and you’ll be serving your fans in addition to serving your sponsors.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 8.5/10
The pavilion celebrates California baseball, with particular attention to California Leaguers who have gone on to the Hall of Fame.

Charm:  2.5/5
Physically, yes.  But as no advertisement can be charming, neither can the experience of attending a game at Municipal Stadium.

Spectacle: 1.5/5
A couple of good promotions, like one where players tried to bust out the headlights of a car with a baseball, but on the whole, things were ludicrously over-the-top.

Team mascot/name:  2.5/5


Gigante and me.  Is he an ape?  A gorilla?  Hard to tell, but I don’t mind him or his name.  However, the name “Giants” is a bit dull.

Aesthetics:  4/5
Lovely park.  Not much of a view, though.

Pavilion area:  5/5
Absolutely gorgeous.  Loads of activity, plenty of art, and a celebration of baseball.

Scoreability:  2/5
Not great here.  It was hard to tell when a new pitcher arrived, and inexcplicably, while the Giants’ lineup was listed in the pavilion, the opponents’ were not.

Fans:  2.5/5
I give San Jose fans credit for the sellout.  I do NOT give them credit for their baseball acumen, however, as it’s clear they’re eating up the garbage that the team is shelling out.

Intangibles:  0/5
A ballgame experience that, in the end, actually upset me.  So much wasted potential here.

TOTAL:  28.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

The Giants’ Darren Sack is the star, giving up two hits and striking out six in six innings of shutout ball.  Thomas King and Ben Cox finish the four-hitter, giving up only an unearned run in the ninth.

(Written July 2006.)

Lake Olmstead Stadium, Augusta, Georgia

Lake Olmstead Stadium, Augusta, GEORGIA

State #: 10
States to go:  40

Number of games:  1
First game:  April 14, 2005 (Augusta Green Jackets 10, Savannah Sand Gnats 2)

(Click on any image to see in in a larger size.)

First off, before I get to the ballpark, I must settle a grudge.  This grudge is at least somewhat against orbitz.com and a little more against the Regency Inn Augusta.

Yeah, I know…I decided to go for the cheap hotel ($30) in Augusta.  But I trusted Orbitz.  $30?  Cheap.  Maybe I’ll get a cheap, clean, safe, utilitarian room, like a Motel 6 or Microtel or something…no sweat!  Not what I got.

Maybe I should have been clued in by the long-haired dude in the Harley T-shirt who worked the desk.  Would it kill him to dress professionally?  But whatever…different strokes and all that.  Maybe I should have been more suspicious of

the chick-in-too-much-makeup-and-slutty-clothes who was leaning up to the window of a pickup truck in the parking lot.  But I went and gave the guy my $30.  I walked past the weed-ridden pool area, weed-ridden balcony, weed-ridden walls. I checked out the brownish-yellow grout in the bathroom, the chipping-away sink.  I felt yucky.  I headed back out past the half-naked guys on cellphones on the balcony (there might have been six guys staying in the 148-room place) to go to the ballgame.  I noted that the too-much-makeup woman was now seated on the curb.  Waiting.  For something.

Well, I’d had it.  I was nervous from feeling yucky and even a little bit from dreading the possibly unsafe walk back to my room after the game.  So I called Orbitz to tell them I was disappointed that this place (a two-star place, no less…not a one-star!) was a place they had listed.  He called the manager to ask if he’d refund my money.  The manager refused.  The nice guy at Orbitz said he’d look into getting the Regency Inn removed from Orbitz.  But as of this writing, it’s still there.  So, I must say this:

DO NOT STAY AT THE REGENCY INN AUGUSTA.  It is scary and gross.  And while you’re at it, you’d do well to use Expedia or Hotwire or such to book your hotels until Orbitz yanks that rathole from its otherwise-fine website. 

(There!  Now, if two people find this page while looking for a hotel in Augusta, and decide not to stay at the Regency, then the manager’s decision not to refund my money will COST him money!  Email me if you were dissuaded from the Regency by reading this.  You’ll make my day.)

Okay.  I chalked up the $30 as lost to a learning experience, booked a new hotel to reduce my stress level, and headed out to Lake Olmstead Stadium.

The ballpark is attractive on the exterior.  It feels newer than the 10 years old it is…they’re obviously taking care of the ballpark.  It was the home opener that night, so the bunting added a festive touch.  It’s located across the street from the actual Lake Olmstead, a lovely sportsman’s spot for the Augusta area.  I wish the ballpark were a little closer to the lake, but that’s rather nit-picky.  The ballpark is adjacent to a very poorly-maintained baseball field, which detracts a bit from the charm…surely either they or the city could spend a few bucks to get that field up to Little League condition so that kids could play right next to the grown-ups.

Once inside the ballpark, I didn’t notice a lot that showed me I was in Georgia, or even in the South.  Only the climate helped.  Still, the ballpark had some nice

charm about it.  The visitors’ pitchers sit about fifteen feet above the field just to the foul side of the right-field foul pole in sort of a spartan skybox.  No chance of heckling them, sure, but they probably have a nice view, and it’s a nice visual for the rest of us.

The game event itself didn’t do a whole lot for me.  I do believe that the nickname is one of the best in the minors–it marvelously incorporates what Augusta is most famous for into a nice pun with a suitable mascot.  Sting (will Gordon Sumner sue the GreenJackets to get his name back?) is one of only two mascots who has ever actually spoken to me.  You see, when I went to have my picture taken with him, I started up conversation.  I asked him what his name is.  He pointed to his gluteus maximus, where an insect’s stinger would be.  I played along, lightly.  “Your name is Butt?  Rear end?  Tush?  Smells?”  I think the guy probably didn’t like those jokes, because he leaned in to me, and in a basso profundo way deeper than his famous namesake’s high tenor, said:  “Sting.” I told him I didn’t think he was allowed to talk.  He shook his head no, and indicated to me that I should keep hush-hush about it.  Don’t worry, Sting.  I won’t tell anyone.  Except for whoever reads this.

On the whole…pretty good.  A nice ballpark in many ways, but I can’t say it blew me away, mostly due to a lack of local character.  I may go back someday, but I sure as hell won’t stay at the Regency Inn.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  4/10
I didn’t get much beyond the nickname.

Charm: 4/5
Quite nice–brick and iron, well taken care of.

Spectacle: 3/5
A little quiet for single-A ball.

Team Mascot/Name:  4.5/5

Sting and me, just after Sting spoke.  LOVE the name of the club.

Aesthetics:  3.5/5
Not much in the way of a view, but the park itself was quite lovely.

Pavilion area:  2.5/5
Not much going on there.

Scoreability:  3/5

Fans:  3.5/5
Nice folks.  Nobody really talked to me, though, and I like it when they do.

Intangibles:  3/5
I admit I was in a bad mood due to earlier events, and it was also a lousy game.  But it still hung in there.

TOTAL:  31/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

After taking the lead on an early Steve Mortimer home run, Savannah fell apart.  Brian Horwitz went 4-for-5 with two doubles.  Simon Klink went 3-for-5 with 3 RBI.  GreenJackets pitchers combined on a 4-hitter.

Sand Gnats manager Randy Knorr was ejected–he thought Marvin Lowrance’s foul ball was actually a home run.  Lowrance reached on an error and eventually scored anyway.  All that yelling and the play didn’t make any difference.  But dude, check out his post-ejection expression!  Combination sulk/pout!


Keizer Stadium/Volcanoes Stadium, Keizer, Oregon

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Keizer Stadium, Keizer, OREGON

Number of states: still 8
States to go:  42
Number of games: 8
First game:  September 5, 2004 (Everett AquaSox 15, Salem-Keizer Volcanoes 5)
Most recent game:  August 21, 2011 (Boise Hawks 9, Salem-Keizer  Volcanoes 2)

I sure hope that my in-laws aren’t offended by the score of this ballpark.  I made it down to Salem-Keizer for the last game of the 2004 Northwest League season, on my first visit to Michelle The Fiancee’s parents since Michelle had changed to that title from Michelle The Girlfriend.  They gamely agreed to blitz down to Salem from their home south of Portland to see my final Northwest League stadium.  We hoped it would be a critical game, with Everett needing a win to force a tie salemkeizersignin the Northwest League’s Western Division.  Alas, it didn’t turn out that way–Vancouver clinched the division with a win earlier that day.  Still, this was a good chance to chill with the in-laws-to-be.  While the company was good, the ballpark was charmless and left a lot to be desired.

Location, location, location!  Keizer Stadium ain’t got it.  For starters, Keizer is a small suburb of almost-as-small Salem; it’s about as far north of Salem as you can get and still be connected.  Indeed, it’s far out enough that there’s nothing north of it except cows, at least as far as I can see.  There’s nothing south of it but, you know, boring suburban stuff.  Were it not for Oregon’s mountains in the distance (which were, on this September Sunday at least, almost entirely obscured by smog and haze), I wouldn’t have the remotest clue where in the United States I am while in Keizer Stadium.

This leads me to the main issue I have with Keizer Stadium:  I-5 is only a good cutoff throw from the right-field fence.  This salemkeizertrainmeans that interstate traffic is close enough that I can hear it throughout the game; close enough that I can smell the exhaust.  Just past the interstate is a train track, over which several freight trains traveled during the game.  This could have been enjoyable–to quote Paul Simon, “everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance”–but I couldn’t hear the train over the damn traffic noise. All of this eliminates any hope that Keizer Stadium has for real atmosphere.  It has all the atmosphere of a Denny’s parking lot just off the exit ramp.

I was especially disturbed by the playground down the right field line.  It just doesn’t feel right to have kids playing so close to semis blitzing by on their way to Portland and Seattle.  Maybesalemkeizerplayground it’s just the teacher’s instinct in me, but there was something freaky–and sort of unfun–about the atmosphere on that playground.

Even with the disadvantage of the location, I don’t feel that the Volcanoes’ people did much to make the best of it.  For starters, lineups weren’t posted anywhere on the concourse.  There were some nice places to walk–I like the picnic tables down the left-field line and the grassy area beyond the left-field fence.  But it’s strange–when I asked the ushers where I could find lineups listed, they looked at me like it was the most bizarre request they’d ever received.  Seems to me that someone would have asked before me.

Keizer Stadium featured one lovely flower arrangement made to look like a baseball.  However, it was putsalemkeizernumber in a place where nobody could really see it except the right fielder..it’s just the other side of the fence from third base.  Those seated down the first-base line wouldn’t have an angle to see that it’s a baseball, and everyone else wouldn’t see it at all.

And while we’re at it, the numbers on the back of the Volcanoes’ jerseys are very nearly unreadable. Does anybody want to hazard a guess as to what this man’s jersey number is? 28, 23, 29?

I did ask Michelle The Fiancee’s Dad what his coming to bat song would be.  He said, not surprisingly, the Marine Corps Hymn.  Not a bad choice.  Mine?  “Superball” by salemkeizerhostfamiliesAimee Mann, though I’m willing to consider other options.

There was a sweet pre-game ceremony where the Volcanoes players walked out to give a gift to and thank their host families.  It reminded me of senior night for high school sports teams, where players walk out and give their moms and dads bouquets.  It can’t be easy to be on your own in a minor-league town far away from home when you’re 18 or 19 years old.

Here’s another question tsalemkeizerfromlfhat came up during the endless game.  As you can probably guess, I never leave games early…and in this game, I was rewarded.  The Volcanoes came roaring back from a 15-4 ninth-inning deficit only to fall short 15-5.  But the fifth run meant a free burger (or something…it was so late at night that we headed home, and I never got it).  To the patient go the rewards.  My bride-to-be and her parents were having a very good time, so I didn’t feel like I was detaining them, but I’d like to announce publicly that I would have left this one early if they’d needed to.

So, in spite of the fact that I didn’t like the ballpark much and don’t plan on returning, a fun time was had just chilling with the fiancee and her parents.  I accomplished what I wanted to–I made it to all 8 Northwest League ballparks.  It had been a fun 2004–13 ballparks in 8 states (14 in 9 if you count the rainout).  Count on at least a couple more of these in 2005.  And in the process, I hope to see a few more scenes like this one, which features the Volcanoes’ John Odom.

salemkeizerodom

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  5/10
Very little going for the ballpark here.  There’s a view of Oregon’s mountains beyond right field (mostly obscured by haze), and trains running by past the interstate, but for the most part, this could have been any distant suburb off of any interstate in America.

Charm: 1.5 /5
Very little.  There’s a reason I don’t have a house by the interstate–noise, dirt, and atmosphere–and for the same reasons, I don’t want my ballparks close enough to hear I-5 tractor-trailers.

Spectacle: 3/5
Fine.  Not great for short-season A ball.

Team mascot/name:  3.5/5
salemkeizermascot
Crater and I squint into the sun…see how his pupils are almost nonexistent?  Yeah, it’s a dinosaur…which has been done (Dinger in Colorado), but I’ll tolerate it for a team called the Volcanoes.  One goofy-looking guy,  Crater is.

Aesthetics:  1/5
Not a pretty place, either on the exterior or interior.

Pavilion area: 2/5
Not much going on…a little playground in the shadow of the interstate, a lot of cement with nothing too fun going on, and most importantly, no lineups. That’s inexcusable.

Scoreability:  2.5/5
Although there were no lineups available, the Salem-Keizer folk did a decent job staying updated on the scoreboard, although they did misspell Brian Schweiger’s name (“Scheiger”).

Fans:  4/5
A little quiet, but I was impressed by the crowd for the last game of the year.  I was even more impressed by the July 4 crowd a few years later.

Intangibles: 1/5
It might have been the suburban location, the damn interstate, or a terrible game, but this place did absolutely nothing for me.

TOTAL:  23.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

A bloody-awful game, featuring 29 hits and 20 runs.  Everett’s attack featured round-trippers by Oswaldo Navarro (to lead off the game), Mike Wilson, Brandon Green, and Elvis Cruz.  After the latter’s homer, Salem-Keizer’s PA announcer announced “Elvis has left the building.”  I bet Cruz has NEVER heard that one before…although I confess I said it before the PA guy did.

Simon Klink homered for the Volcanoes.

Patrick Rose homers for Tri-City in 2008.

Craig Westcott pitches seven scoreless innings to lead Salem-Keizer to a 7-0 win over Tri-City in Game 3 of the 2009 Northwest League Championship Series.  Evan Crawford goes 3-for-3 with two doubles for the Volcanoes, who wind up finishing off the best-of-5 series the next night.